Pieve di Teco
This is one of the inland capitals of Western Liguria. A large historic centre, with commercial leanings. It was founded in the thirteenth century on the ancient road leading towards Piedmont, defended by the castle of the Clavesana family, the local lords. Genoa took control of the city as a strategic move for trading in the Po area. It is characterised by its fourteenth century porticoes, and is still the fulcrum of socio-economic life today. Great monuments are a testament to the wealth gained from land and trade, monuments such as the neo-classical church, the oratories of the brotherhoods, the historic palazzos, such as the council building attributed to Borelli or that of the Manfredi family. You will find the Salvini Theatre here, a tiny 99-seat public theatre.
The tradition of leatherwork and shoemaking still lives on, while, in the shops under the porticoes, you can find baked treats or gastronomic goodies made with local produce, from cheeses to vegetables.
The Impero Valley
In the late Medieval period, the productive arm of the valley was linked to the cultivation of olives, which is still dominant today. All the hills are cloaked in olive trees: each town has its own olive presses and olive oil industries are located in the bottom of the valley. All the towns have been given an appreciably large financial value by the investments tied to this olive cultivation, which is still very much in evidence today. In Chiusavecchia, one might note the ancient area that was built along the length of the old Piedmont road, the grand nineteenth-century bridge, the church with a large processional cross and the sanctuary of Madonna dell’Oliveto (Our Lady of the Olive Grove). On the left side of the valley, one finds the interesting towns of Cesio, Torria, Chiusanico and Gazzelli, each with their own important churches and oratories. In Pontedassio, the church dates back to the nineteenth century, but there are houses from the 13th-15th centuries among the original suburbs, and a fountain believed to be from the fifteenth century. The hamlets of Bestagno, Villa Viani and Villa Guardia, in the valley of Agazza, are clustered around the remains of the Bestagno Castle and the church of San Michele. In Villa Guardia, you can find a three-dimensional wooden copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, another fifteenth-century work.
Imperia was officially established in 1923, following the union of the two major municipalities of Oneglia and Porto Maurizio with some towns in the immediate inland area, which are now outlying administrative divisions. The resulting name stems from the Impero River, which flows through ancient feuds established by the Emperor. Oneglia and Porto Maurizio are two towns with a parallel history which never met, or at the very least, did not meet in battle, so that in the end Oneglia was linked with the House of Savoy and Porto Maurizio with Genoa. The first one had always had connections with the Po region and is a “Piedmontese city by the sea”, with a large piazza and porticoes. Over the centuries, Porto Maurizio has maintained and stratified its position as a Ligurian-style commercial seaside town, with “Parasio”, its precious historic centre. It has many cultural attractions, not only due to its urban scenery, but also the Olive Museum, the Grock villa, the large churches of the cities and the sanctuaries of the little towns, such as Piani and Montegrazie.
One city that is actually many cities.
For the more curious: One magical villa and garden: Villa Grock in Imperia
“The stone circus”: this is how, as efficient as it is concise, the fantastic Villa Grock in Imperia was described. Its unmistakable outline, with a small tower, its shape as distinctive as anything related to its creator, can be seen on the higher parts of Oneglia. Who is the father of this treasure? A famous clown, Adrien Wettach, stage name: Grock. Born in Switzerland in 1880, he played more than ten instruments and, over time, he worked his way through all genres of clowning. Having fallen in love with Liguria, he decided to purchase a plot of land in Imperia, and it was here that Grock built his kingdom, between 1924 and 1930. There is a lavish park, with 7000 square metres occupied by 1,500 cubic metres of buildings, where Grock also used to practise the art of photography. Everything is reminiscent of the circus: the columns as rotund as a clown’s belly, the coloured balls for games of skill, the coverings of the pavilion designed like a big top. A maze of fountains and stairs, amongst valuable and exotic plants, leads up to a villa of 7,000 square metres. Here, from the underground parking and the little theatre, right up to the tower, luxurious surroundings abound, with the suite of reception and dining rooms and majestic areas for relaxation. The villa is not lacking in a costume room or exotic furnishings either. As Grock never married, after a long period left uninhabited, the building was acquired by the Province of Imperia and thanks to the enthusiasm of many of the citizens, its reopening was celebrated in 2006, with the plan to create a multi-purpose cultural centre: a highlight of our Province.
A pleasant, “people-friendly” little tourist town, totally rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1887. It is the capital of the second tourist district in Ponente, after that of San Remo-Bordighera. Here, as well as beaches, there are some delightful strolls throughout the town and along the promenade. In terms of sights, there is the civic Library Museum with archaeology and Renaissance sections.
San Bartolomeo and Cervo
From the tourist side to the magic of the village of Cervo, in isolation overlooking the sea, the stratification of centuries of history. The village has many features, from historical and religious oases such as the sanctuary of Madonna della Rovere, the clump of typical Cervo houses which seem as though they are going to tumble into the water. It is wonderful to lose yourself amidst the narrow streets of the castle quarter, catching glimpses of sky and sea between the palazzos. Sights include the parish church of Saint John the Baptist, greatly enriched by many works of art and also built with the contribution made by local coral fishermen. Cervo has been blessed by a period of wealth stretching from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, which has also given the village some distinguished, high-class palazzos, belonging to the major families of the area: stuccoes, painted exteriors, sloping roofs, loggias and terraces high enough to kiss the sky. Not to be missed!
A recent tourist development, but with a long waterside history. Sights include the building of upper-class and then Genoan authorities with its gate-tower, the fountain close to the Julius Augustus Roman road, the church of Saint James and Saint Philip, and the castle-palazzo of the Genoan authorities, as well as the area which was once inhabited and is now the site of an archaeological dig.
A typical seaside, coastal village, with a beautiful beach and charming streets, enhanced by the large eighteenth-century church of Saint Matthew, embellished by works of art of great importance. One of the most beautiful historic centres on the Ligurian coast.
For the more curious: Laigueglia and Colla Micheri: “el buen retiro” of the explorer Thor Heyerdahl.
Andora is linked to Laigueglia via the route of the ancient Roman road, the Julius Augustus Way, which passes through the compulsory stopping point in Colla Micheri. A handful of houses, porticoes and a spectacular view. It was here that Thor Heyerdahl had his refuge, where he passed away in 2002. He was one of the world’s unique personalities, an anthropologist, explorer, writer and director. He defied the international scientific community by sailing the Pacific and the Atlantic, on his own, in boats made out of wood, papyrus and reeds. He demonstrated that ancient maritime routes may have existed, causing new paths of enquiry to be opened up. In 1952, he won an Oscar for his work as a director of documentaries. His courage was legendary and in the year of his death, he was still studying the journeys made by the Vikings. Colla Micheri was his refuge because on one side, it had the mountains that reminded him of his native Norway, and on the other, the sea, which was his passion and his challenge.
A large seaside development, with a long sandy beach, the longest in western Liguria. It also has an historic road that runs parallel to the coast, nicknamed “the budello”, and is clearly a commercial town. There are also some sights to be seen in this area, such as the anti-Berber fortifications (the large Coscia tower), the parish church-oratory building, and the Carlo Levi museum. Or you could simply lose yourself among the pedestrian streets and little squares in the town.
For the more curious: he Muretto of Alassio, a drop of whisky and Hemingway.
Society life in Alassio immediately after the Second World War was extremely lively. Hotels, bars, a sandy beach and unspoilt nature could all be found here. The arts world, film stars, VIPs of the age all often stayed at the Caffé Roma, which belonged to the Berrino family. Ernest Hemingway used to frequent this bar, as a ritual, with some alcohol for company. The nameless little wall that marked the town limits, in front of the bar, was where young people would stop to chat, watching the international jet set, the “movers and shakers” of the time. It was from the collection of signatures in Mario Berrino’s album that the idea was born of decorating the anonymous little wall with small ceramic tiles bearing remarks from Alassio’s illustrious guests. The first came from Hemingway himself, stuck on at night, without permission from the local authorities. The tradition continued. Now there are more than 500 signatures.
A large historic city, of Ligurian-Roman origin, home to the bishop’s seat and a well-preserved cathedral and baptistry (from the 5th century). This is a city rich in upper-class Medieval palazzos, with large brick towers that form the outline of the city. You must not miss the route of the Julius Augustus Roman road that runs between Albenga and Alassio (6.5 km on the flat, with ruins of tombs, traces of the original road and a breathtaking view).
For the more curious: The caves at Toirano
This is the largest network of natural caves in the Varatella valley. There are more than 300 in this area. The Toirano caves, which are found in the Province of Savona, are the largest, most accessible and most interesting for the general public, with around 100,000 visitors per year. These karst caves are extremely interesting due to the bizarre shapes created by stalactites and stalagmites formations. Inside, there are very ancient traces of the presence of humans, including Neanderthal Man. As well as these traces, there are also obvious remains of animals that could typically be found in these caverns, such as ursus spelaeus, present in the area 25,000 years ago. There are two grottoes that are accessible to visitors: the cave of Santa Lucia, preceded by a sanctuary, and that of the Basura (witch), which was only discovered in 1950. The grottoes are joined by a gallery and were made accessible in 1953, with subsequent increases in interest from visitors. The charm, the magic of these surroundings is crowned by the discover of an environment remained so impenetrable that, in an underground lake, a tiny (7 mm) prehistoric crustacean was found, called Niphargus. It is not an extinct, but a living organism, with two characteristics linked to its life in the dark caverns: it is transparent and blind.